Hello! SCG Standard Open: Dallas this weekend will be the last major tournament of current Standard, so you'd better catch its last breath before moving forward. Gatecrash spoilers are all around, and the new Ravnica with all ten guilds seems to be a super-fun place! Nearly a third of the set is already spoiled, and there is a ton of Constructed playable cards. Some of them are clear to everyone, and some are still waiting for attention, so I'm going to look at the most interesting cards in each guild today. Many three- and even four-colored decks will undoubtedly emerge, but it's appropriate to talk about single cards by guild at this early stage of spoiler season.
The most intriguing card I've seen thus far belongs to the guild which is closest to my own, Izzet. Simic uses careful investigation and evolution, whereas Izzet goes crazy and tries all existing options. Simic has the primal power of green instead of furious rage of red. Blue/green will finally have a good mana base for the first time since the painlands left Standard, so it's time to try Simic-based aggro.
Zameck Guildmage (and his second ability) will be the centerpiece of such a deck due to his perfect interaction with Strangleroot Geist and the brand-new evolve creatures like Experiment One, Cloudfin Raptor, and maybe even Shambleshark. Evolve creatures can't grow indefinitely, so exchanging last counters for additional cards will not effectively change their size, simultaneously producing enormous card advantage. The only problem with Zameck Guildmage is that it is mana-hungry, so you must clearly play Deathrite Shaman in this format too… Oops, I meant Arbor Elf. This Elf becomes better with two more green-producing shocklands, especially for Bant and Naya (with Gavony Township), which could fully explore the power of eight mana-accelerating creatures.
I have two different Simic decks. The first one is a Guildmage-centered aggro deck with mana dorks that is able to take full advantage of card drawing. The second option uses U/G creatures' synergy with the currently underplayed Quirion Dryad; such a deck would be tempo-based and built more around Dryad than around Guildmage. However, it's hard to find the right balance between cheap efficient creatures, blue spells, and early drops with evolve (who obviously want the deck to include more fatties). Also, keep Stitched Drake and Lyev Skyknight in mind as the cheapest creatures with three power that can trigger Quirion Dryad. Simic Charm and some other sweet cards could improve the situation, but I'm stuck at only one close-to-real decklist right now.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 3 Deadbridge Goliath
- 4 Experiment One
- 1 Gyre Sage
- 2 Predator Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 2 Vorapede
- 3 Wolfir Avenger
- 4 Zameck Guildmage
Zameck Guildmage does all kinds on unfair things here: can make infinite creatures with Strangleroot Geist and Vorapede (you can't even imagine how unfair Vorapede is), uses Predator Ooze as a way to solve stalled battlefields, upgrades late topdecks, enables repeatable Tutoring with Garruk Relentless, and much more. Such a deck has none of B/G's efficient removal, but card advantage and fighting allows it being as effective as its Golgari counterpart. Moreover, Simic have more chances in the late game as chances to dig for key cards are significantly higher.
However, Simic is not expected to be the most aggressive guild of Ravnica, as Gruul will be able to take even more advantage of aggressive, one-mana green creatures. Experiment One is a Simic card, but no one can resist if the powerful creation wants to become a part of the Gruul Clans. Experiment One and Arbor Elf is a great pair of one-mana creatures for a green-based aggressive deck in any colors, but I'm not quite ready to build this one for Gruul as there is still no reason to prefer red to black, which has better removal.
The best red card is double-costed (Hellrider), and it's relatively hard in this format be fast enough to make direct damage spells relevant finishers against massive life gain. Skullcrack is nevertheless a strong reason to play red in a world of Sphinx's Revelation and Thragtusk. But I'm afraid that the inability to hit creatures restricts its usability in a green-based deck that has good creatures to deal with the opponent, while Mono-Red Aggro would welcome such a card. So I'd rather build red-based Gruul right now and wait for something interesting in the upcoming spoilers to try a green-based version.
As for Gruul specific cards, the most interesting of them is Burning-Tree Emissary (who is also my personal pick for great conjunction of card, picture, and flavor). The Emissary isn't anything outstanding (remember, Priest of Urabrask was straight unplayable) and doesn't have combo potential (the repeatable Blink effect legal in Modern costs 2UW), but she is a solid pick for an aggressive deck aiming to win as fast as possible.
2/2 for two mana is slightly below expectations but is reasonable, while two aggressive creatures on turn 2 or 3 is fine for anyone demanding speed more than advantage. A turn 3 Burning-Tree Emissary into a hasty Flinthoof Boar followed by turn 4 Hellrider? Or maybe a turn 2 Burning-Tree Emissary into Lightning Mauler? The Emissary may allow for a significant speed increase in the proper surroundings, so take an additional look at the Gruul Shaman while building your decks in the new format.
Gore-House Chainwalker may be a good substitute for Ash Zealot, who is not castable right after Burning-Tree Emissary, but there are many other options, so I expect that there will be no serious problems. Burning-Tree Emissary is great in the early game and reasonable later (though such a deck typically wants to win early) and has all kinds of exploitable interactions with other cards, improving Mono-Red even more and hopefully allowing Standard to become even more diverse and interesting.
Another way to improve the red deck is Boros Charm. My first reaction to the words "deals four damage" was "how is it possible?" And the second mode is probably more useful, creating a card equally useful in nearly any game state. The third mode is less powerful, but it may be useful with, for example, Zektar Shrine Expedition. An Expedition-powered Boros deck has seen Extended play, and decks in current Modern would easily fall to the combination of Steppe Lynx and efficient burn spells.
In Standard, the ability to counter any non-Terminus sweeper may be even more relevant, as both white and red decks are creature-based these days. Boros Charm's first mode could make Golgari Charm or Rootborn Defenses Constructed playable. I'd probably gear towards a white-based Humans deck with Boros Charm (and Frontline Medic, who is just unfair), but let's wait for more cards and maybe we can build a Naya aggro deck with both Boros Charm and Loxodon Smiter.
Dimir is the hardest guild to figure out right now as not many Constructed playable cards have been revealed; nearly all the cipher cards have caused significant opinion controversy. They all are overcosted, but estimating its late game usefulness for half price (assuming we'll hit twice), Stolen Identity becomes much more interesting (while Windfall the effect encoded on Whispering Madness may be good enough as is, especially if you're the underdog in Sphinx's Revelation wars). I'm thinking more about a cipher-powered heavy control deck than a hexproof-powered tempo deck. Invisible Stalker is a fine card, but I don't expect cheap cipher cards aside from Hands of Binding (and four mana may already be too much).
Speaking of the heavy control deck, I want to give Nightveil Specter a chance. It must be supported by Chromatic Lantern and many lands in different colors; I assume green and white for color-stabilization, Unburial Rites, and Terminus or Supreme Verdict. However, Esper colors may be fine too. Nightveil Specter can't win on its own, but it could produce enough advantage to win grindy mirrors where any excessive cards are important. So one or two copies could be a very interesting addition (maybe in the sideboard) of appropriate decks.
Last but not least is Orzhov. The most debatable Orzhov card is Obzedat, Ghost Council, and for a good reason, but I want to talk about another card that may or may not end up Constructed playable. Alms Beast isn't very powerful at first sight, as its drawback is huge even for a 6/6 for four mana. But what if we add the ability to survive a sweeper to the mix? Yes, Alms Beast doesn't have one where Supreme Verdict is concerned, but what about Mutilate?
Multicolored black control may become playable with Watery Grave and Godless Shrine, and Alms Beat could be good there. Mutilate will hardly be more than -4/-4 in a deck without fetchlands, but it's enough for most of the creatures that are played in Standard. If the opponent plays another creature, you could just kill it (as the black deck should be removal-heavy) and attack for six. Such a deck can't play Sphinx's Revelation, so it should provide comparable advantage and life gain other ways. Staff of Nin and Underworld Connections could be played for card advantage, and the Orzhov mechanic, extort, may be useful for preserving your life total.
Is Basilica Guards good enough multicolored black control? Will we see a comparable black card? There are still 150 chances that the card you want will be printed in Gatecrash; will some of them actually be printed? We'll see!